Bhicoo Batlivala

Other names: 

Mrs Guy Mansell

Date of birth: 
01 Jan 1911
Precise DOB unknown: 
City of birth: 
Country of birth: 
Current name city of birth: 
Current name country of birth: 
Precise date of death unknown: 
Date of 1st arrival in Britain: 
01 Jan 1921
Precise 1st arrival date unknown: 
Dates of time spent in Britain: 





A Parsee from a privileged background, Bhicoo Batlivala was the daughter of Sorabji Batlivala who owned a woollen mill in Bombay then became manager of Empress Mills in Nagpur. Through her paternal aunt, she was related to Navroji Saklatvala, Managing Director of Tatas. Her sister Siloo worked for Tatas, and her brother Homi is described as ‘the adopted son of the late Sir Navroji Saklatvala’ (L/PJ/12/631, p. 21). Batlivala moved to Britain as a child and was educated at Cheltenham Ladies College before entering higher education and being called to the Bar. After her education, she returned to India for some years where she worked in the judicial and educational departments in Baroda. It is said she left her post as Inspector of Schools in Baroda because of ‘a scandal involving her moral character’ (ibid.).

In June 1938, Batlivala accompanied Nehru to Europe and then to London as his personal secretary, apparently breaking off her engagement to an Englishman to do so and causing considerable scandal in the process. Subsequently, Nehru was advised to avoid her company for fear that the association would bring his name into disrepute.

Eventually married to an Englishman, Guy Mansell, Batlivala was evidently a very active member of the India League and one of the most visible women in this organization; her attendance and participation is recorded at a number of meetings, both in London and in other cities, in the late 1930s and early 1940s, and she played a leading role in campaigning for the release of Nehru from prison. Clearly a highly articulate and charismatic speaker, in one government surveillance report she is described as one of the few Indians beyond Krishna Menon who had any influence on the policy of the India League (L/PJ/12/453, p. 125). In 1939 and 1940, she gave lecture tours ‘of an anti-British nature’ in the US, making a considerable impact on her audiences, with one newspaper report declaring that ‘no other speaker who has appeared at the Washington Athletic Club has carried the enchantment, the fascination, the brilliance and stimulation that 28-year-old Bhicco Batlivala does’ (L/PJ/12/631, p. 21, p. 68).

Evidence suggests Batlivala was also a talented sportswoman, playing on the first woman’s polo team in England and excelling at hunting, flying, tennis, squash and golf (ibid., pp. 68–9).


Mulk Raj Anand, Asha Bhattacharya, Vera Brittain, Hsiao Chi’en, M. K. Gandhi, Charlotte Haldane, Agatha Harrison, Parvati Kumaramangalam, Beatrix Lehmann, Guy Mansell, V. K. Krishna Menon, Jawaharlal Nehru, Bertrand Russell, K. S. ShelvankarIqbal Singh, Sasadhar Sinha, Alagu Subramaniam, H. G. Wells.

Bengal India Restaurant (Percy Street), Curtis Brown.

Involved in events: 

India League meetings and conferences


Memo to Mr Silver, 1 December 1939, L/PJ/12/631, India Office Records, Asian and Afridan Studies Reading Room, British Library, St Pancras, pp. 19-20


This file includes correspondence and reports regarding Bhicoo Batlivala’s planned lecture tour in the US. Much of the correspondence debates whether or not she should be allocated a permit to travel from Britain to the US, with government authorities fearful of her spreading anti-British propaganda across the Atlantic but others claiming that to refuse her permit would create undesirable publicity. One proposal by the government was to send Yusuf Ali, a pro-British Muslim Indian, to the US to lecture as well, in order to counter Batlivala’s Congress propaganda. Batlivala eventually got her permit, travelling to the US in early 1940.


At Mr Dibdin’s request, I am sending you a Note of my information regarding Mrs Guy MANSELL (Miss BHICOO BATLIVALA)...

I, myself, am strongly of the opinion that we should not give way in this case. Sir F. White’s reasons for endorsing Mr Matthews’ recommendation are not convincing and I observe that he has not repeated the original ground advanced by Mr Matthews, vis, that she is anti-Nazi and may give publicity to the anti-Nazi viewpoint, which is, I imagine, the only ground on which the Ministry of Information is entitled to back her application. The fact that she may indulge in anti-British propaganda re India and thereby cause a revulsion of feeling against us in the United States, with possible serious consequences to the conduct of the War, is, it seems to me, equally a matter in which the Foreign Office would be interested. In the last War, as you may remember, owing to the presence in the U.S.A. of anti-British propagandists, we had to send lecturers over to counteract the unfortunate impression they had created.


The perceived threat posed by Batlivala’s planned lecture tour of the US to British interests is suggestive of the impact and influence of this South Asian woman. The tension between the government’s endorsement of Balivala’s anti-Nazi views and objection to her anti-colonial views points to Britain’s hypocrisy in fighting for the ideals of ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ in the Second World War while oppressing the Indian people through colonial rule.

Archive source: 

L/PJ/12/453, India Office Records, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library, St Pancras

L/PJ/12/631, India Office Records, African and Asian Studies Reading Room, British Library, St Pancras